Two young people sitting together at a picnic bench with their friends.

A guide for young people Depression

If you think you might have depression, you're not alone. Find out more about the symptoms of depression, what you can do to get better, and how you can support a friend struggling with depression or low mood.

What is depression?

Depression is a mental health condition where you feel very down all or most of the time.

All of us will feel sad or low in mood at times; it’s a normal part of being human. But if these feelings continue for a long time and start to make everyday life difficult, then you may be experiencing depression. Doctors sometimes refer to this as clinical depression, major depression, or major depressive disorder (MDD).

Depression can happen to anyone, regardless of age, gender, race, culture, faith or anything else. There isn’t always a clear reason why you begin to experience depression, but sometimes there will be, like if you have gone through difficult life events. For example:

  • if you have lost someone you care about and you’re struggling to cope
  • if something difficult is going on in your personal life
  • if you’re struggling at school, university or work
  • if you’re experiencing discrimination, like racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia or transphobia
  • if you’re having money troubles or you’re in debt
Instagram artwork by @youngmindsuk. Mountains and a yellow sun with text wrapped around that reads 'These Feelings Are Temporary And Won't Last Forever'.

The artwork depicts hand-drawn, shaded mountains in black and white, to the left is a dark cloud with rain falling from it, behind the mountains is a yellow sun rising up from behind the mountains. In front of the mountains is a scroll that reads: 'these feelings are temporary and won't last forever.'

These are just examples though – the reasons will vary from person to person, and whatever you’re going through, your feelings are valid.
Whatever the reason you are feeling depressed, it is not your fault and you deserve help. Although it can be hard to feel optimistic when you're struggling with your mood, support is available and there are things you can do to feel better.

Symptoms and signs of depression

All people experience depression differently, but common symptoms of depression include:

  • feeling sad, upset and down often or all of the time
  • feeling more irritable than usual
  • feeling numb or empty
  • not wanting to do things that you previously enjoyed
  • avoiding friends or social situations
  • sleeping more or less than usual
  • eating more or less than usual
  • struggling to concentrate
  • being self-critical
  • feeling hopeless
  • feeling tired and not having any energy
  • feeling guilty, or like you’re a burden on your loved ones
  • wanting to hurt yourself or end your life

Experiencing one or more of these symptoms doesn’t mean you definitely have depression. Equally, you may have depression and not experience all of these symptoms. Whether you recognise one, some or all of these symptoms, the important thing is to get the help that you deserve.

Anxiety and depression

  • It’s common to experience anxiety and depression together. Some of the symptoms of depression are also symptoms of anxiety, such as:

    • becoming agitated
    • feeling restless
    • finding it difficult to sleep or eat

    If you think you may be struggling with anxiety, take a look at our guide to anxiety and specific anxiety disorders.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern. Imogen, 20, shares her tips for coping with SAD on our blog.

"Although seasonal affective disorder is very common, it’s not something you hear talked about enough. It is similar to depression, except it comes and goes in a seasonal pattern, with the symptoms usually being mainly present during the winter. These symptoms include low mood, a lack of energy, a loss of pleasure in activities you would normally enjoy, and feelings of irritability.

"Just know that while it may feel like your feelings are never-ending and things will never get better, they will. Whether this is a new thing for you or you have been struggling for years, things will get better. You are not alone in this I promise you."

Tips for coping with seasonal affective disorder

Getting help for depression

Text in yellow and light blue bubble writing reads 'it is okay to show that you are not okay'.

The artwork depicts wording in blue and yellow that is outlined in black pen. The words read: 'it is okay to show that you are not okay.'

If you think you might be experiencing depression, it’s really important that you speak to someone you trust about how you’re feeling – this could be a friend, a family member, a teacher, or anyone else in your life that you feel comfortable speaking to. Sharing how you’re feeling is often the first step to better understanding your depression and making changes to feel better. You don’t need to face this alone.

You might be worried about how the people in your life will react, or that they won’t understand, especially if they have a different understanding of mental health. But however you’re feeling is valid, and there are helplines you can contact if you don’t feel able to talk to someone you know – see the bottom of this page.

Talking to someone about your mental health may feel scary, but we have information and advice that can really help.

Reaching out for help
A girl sitting on a sofa in a living room beside a radiator. She is hunched over and looking down at her hands clasped together.

Speak to your GP to get professional help

It’s also a good idea to talk to your doctor. They will be able to talk you through what support is available to you in your area, which will depend on your age. When you talk to a doctor, what you tell them is confidential – this means that they will not tell anyone else unless you agree otherwise.

Find out more about confidentiality, as well as our tips on how to prepare for a conversation with your GP about mental health, in our guide.

How to speak to your GP
It’s very easy with depression to feel like you’re experiencing it alone, but depression tends to thrive on someone being isolated. It can be extremely useful to reach out and talk to someone about what you’re feeling.
Luca, 23

How to get help for depression

The support available to you on the NHS will depend on how old you are. Find out how you can access help for depression, whether you are under or over 18.

If you’re under 18, your GP may offer to refer you to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). They might also mention Children and Young People’s Mental Health Services (CYPMHS), which is the name for all mental health services available to young people. You can find out more about what CAMHS is and how to get help from CAMHS in our guide.

If you are a student, your school or college might also be better placed to refer you to CAMHS, or they might have their own counselling service you can use. Speak to a teacher you trust to find out more.

Guide to CAMHS

If you’re over 18, your GP may refer you to an adult mental health service in your area. They will also be able to let you know what counselling or therapy services are available where you live. In many areas, you can refer yourself to NHS Talking Therapies. Find out more about this service and how to refer yourself on the NHS website.

If you are a student, you may be able to access counselling services through your college or university. Speak to a teacher or professor you trust, or contact the person in charge of student wellbeing to find out more.

Some workplaces also offer therapy services through an employee assistance programme (EAP). Speak to your human resources (HR) department to see if your workplace has a programme like this.

Find an NHS talking therapies service

Treating depression

When you’re feeling depressed, it can be hard to imagine ever feeling better. But treatment is available and, with the right support, things can improve and you can get better.

The two most common types of treatment for depression are talking therapy and medication. Often, these two types of treatment will be used together.

Instagram artwork by @laurajaneillustrations. A yellow speech bubble with text inside that says 'You Are Stronger Than That Mean Voice Inside Your Head'.

Instagram artwork by @laurajaneillustrations. A yellow speech bubble with text inside that says, 'you are stronger than that mean voice inside your head'.

Talking therapy

There are many different forms of talking therapy, which generally involve talking about your thoughts, feelings and life experiences with a trained professional, either on your own or as part of a group. This process can help you to spot unhelpful thoughts and behaviours and think about what you can do to change these patterns.

Have a look at our counselling and therapy page to find out more about the different types of talking therapy, how they can help, and what happens in a therapy session.

Counselling and therapy
Being introduced to CBT practices has helped me develop some new coping techniques, and I feel better prepared to cope with shifts in my mental health.
Natasha, 20

Medication

Your doctor may also prescribe you antidepressant medication. Antidepressants treat the symptoms of depression, so they can make you feel better, but they are unlikely to deal with the causes of your depression. For this reason, doctors often prescribe medication like antidepressants alongside some form of talking therapy.

There are lots of different types of antidepressants, and different people respond to them in different ways. The most common type of antidepressant that doctors prescribe for depression are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like citalopramsertraline and fluoxetine.

To find out more about antidepressants, including how they work and information on side effects, have a look at our guide to medications.

Find out about medication

Waiting times

You may have heard that waiting times for mental health support can be quite long. The reality is that this will vary on the type of support that your GP thinks you need, and where you are in the country, as the waiting times vary in different areas. If you would like to know more about this, it’s okay to ask your GP when they refer you. They may not know exactly, but they might be able to give you a rough timeframe.

This can feel really frustrating, but it’s important to remember that how you’re feeling is valid, however long you have to wait for support. Also, there are lots of things you can do to help yourself while you’re waiting – see our next section for tips that young people have told us helped them.

Ways to look after yourself if you have depression

While it is important to seek help if you’re struggling with depression, there are things you can do yourself that might help. This might feel difficult if you’re not used to focusing on your needs or putting yourself first, but there’s nothing wrong with looking after yourself. You deserve kindness and support, including from yourself. If you do struggle to do these things, try not to blame yourself. Doing things differently isn’t always easy, but the important thing is to continue trying – this is what helps us build new habits.

Different techniques will work for different people, and the important thing is to find what works for you. Here are some things you can try:

Your first conversation doesn’t have to cover everything, and you can set your boundaries around what you do and don’t want to talk about. However, speaking to someone you trust about how you’re feeling can lift a huge weight off your shoulders. If you don’t feel able to speak to someone you know, there are helplines you can call – see the bottom of this page for a list of free helpline services.

To begin with I didn’t talk to anyone about how I was feeling, but when things got seriously on top of me I reached out. I am so glad I did.
Lucas

Many people find it helpful to keep a journal as a way to let their feelings out. It can also help you keep track of your emotions to help understand them more clearly. Journaling can look however you want – you could try using it like a diary, you could write down three things you’re grateful for each day, or you could even just use it to doodle and see what comes out. However you choose to use it, expressing how you’re feeling can really help to process what you’re going through.

Lots of people find that regular exercise helps improve their mood. This can feel really challenging when you’re depressed, but you can start small with a short walk, or even just some stretching if you are able. As well as boosting your mood, exercise can also act as a good distraction and help if you’re struggling to sleep at night.

Try to keep going outside, even if it’s just a short walk, it can really help your mood to lift.
Molly

Some people find that practising mindfulness or meditation can help make them feel more calm and grounded. If you’re not sure where to start, there are apps you can try, like Calm and Headspace.

Read how practising mindfulness helps Rachel, 17, look after her mental health on our blog.

How I practise mindfulness to improve my mental health

It can be really helpful to set yourself small, achievable goals that you can complete each day, like taking a shower, going for a walk, or even just getting dressed. Achieving your goal, however small it is, can help boost your self-esteem and remind you how capable you are. Sometimes you might not be able to achieve your goal for the day, but that’s okay too. The important thing is to try.

I’ve found that on days where it feels like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders, putting even the smallest task on the list can help you to feel like you’re accomplishing something, and also helps you recognise that you’re doing the best you can.
Amrit

A self-soothe box is a box of things that ground you, make you feel more relaxed and reduce symptoms of panic, anxiety or low mood. Find out more about how to make one and what to put in it on our blog.

How to make a self-soothe box
Realise that how your feeling won’t last forever and there’s always something to look forward to.
Molly

How to help a friend or family member with depression

It can be really difficult to know how to support a loved one with depression, but there are things you can do to help.

  • Listen without judgement

    Sometimes just talking about our problems and feeling heard can really help. It’s not always easy to listen to someone we care about discuss difficult feelings, but try not to judge or offer solutions unless they ask.

  • Encourage them to get help

    If your friend or family member tells you they are struggling, encourage them to seek help from their doctor. If they are nervous about seeing their GP, you could always offer to go with them for moral support.

  • Celebrate the little wins with them

    For someone struggling with depression, little things like getting out of bed, taking a shower or going to the shops can feel really overwhelming. Sometimes it can be helpful to recognise when your loved one has managed to do these things, and let them know you’re proud of them.

  • Be there for them

    It can be difficult to socialise if you’re struggling with depression, but spending time with people who care about you can help you to feel less alone. Find activities you can do with your loved one to spend time together without pressure, like watching a movie or gaming.

  • Look after yourself

    It’s great that you want to help your friend or family member, but remember that it’s not your responsibility to fix anything. Make sure to take time for yourself and look after your own wellbeing too.

For more information and advice on supporting a friend with their mental health, look at our guide.

Supporting a friend with their mental health
Three young people walk through the woods while talking and smiling together.
It’s easy to feel as though you’re being a burden by telling someone when you’re struggling, but it’s important to remember that these are shared moments. It was not just a case of me venting without any input or interaction from her. She understood me more as a person, and sharing on such a personal level helped us become even closer as friends.

Get help now

Where to get help

If you're feeling down right now, don't bottle it up and struggle alone. Help is available - here are some services that can support you. 

  • Samaritans

    Whatever you're going through, you can contact the Samaritans for support. N.B. This is a listening service and does not offer advice or intervention.

    Opening times:
    24/7
  • Papyrus

    Offers confidential advice and support for young people struggling with suicidal thoughts, as well as family and friends; and information about how to make a safety plan.

    Its helpline service - HOPELINE247 - is available to anybody under the age of 35 experiencing suicidal thoughts, or anybody concerned that a young person could be thinking of suicide.

    Opening times:
    24/7 every day of the year
  • CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably)

    Provides support to anyone aged 16+ who is feeling down and needs to talk or find information.

    Free webchat service available.

    Read information about the helpline and how it works.

    Opening times:
    5pm - midnight, 365 days a year
  • Childline

    If you’re under 19 you can confidentially call, chat online or email about any problem big or small.

    Sign up for a free Childline locker (real name or email address not needed) to use their free 1-2-1 counsellor chat and email support service.

    Can provide a BSL interpreter if you are deaf or hearing-impaired.

    Hosts online message boards where you can share your experiences, have fun and get support from other young people in similar situations.

    Opening times:
    24/7
  • The Mix

    Free, short-term online counselling for young people aged 25 or under. Their website also provides lots of information and advice about mental health and wellbeing. 

    Email support is available via their online contact form.

    They have a free 1-2-1 webchat service available during opening hours.

    Opening times:
    4pm - 11pm, Monday - Friday

Whether you love the page or think something is missing, we appreciate your feedback. It all helps us to support more young people with their mental health.

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